Goals can be good. They give us focus, helping us know when to say yes and when to say no. That’s why we set such a wide range of them–for the next day, the next week, the next month, and even the next year and beyond. But you can’t stay focused all the time. And much the way your muscles need time to repair and get stronger after an intense workout, so does your brain.
Without those rest periods, you’re likely to burn out. In fact, one thing that often gets lost in conversations about time management and productivity is the importance of recovery. We need to set ourselves rest periods at regular intervals the same way we set goals–otherwise, good luck accomplishing them! Here’s how to put a recovery plan in place to allay the daily, weekly, and monthly wear and tear that leads to burnout.
Regulate your energy. You’ve already heard that working with, rather than against, your natural rhythms can make life a whole lot easier. But you may not know how easy that is to actually do.
Some of the most common routines–yet things that many of us skip–like taking a lunch break away from your desk, going on a short walk outside, or even napping, can help you optimize your energy on an hourly basis. A NASA study found that a nap of even 26 minutes can increase productivity by up to 34%. When you feel overwhelmed and exhausted, you probably are. The key to relief isn’t at the bottom of your coffee cup. Don’t push try to push harder when your energy takes a nosedive. Take a break and recharge.
Think about what’s going on. Just like you need to set aside time to tackle to-do items like responding to that really long email or returning a call, you need to tie up your mental and emotional loose ends, too. That’s where daily habits (not weekly, or whenever-I-can-get-to-it rituals) come in.
Maybe you spend your commute or exercise time thinking through any emotionally charged situations you confronted, like a contentious meeting or an employee performance issue. Or it could mean spending time before bed or in the morning quickly jotting down your thoughts in a journal. The point is that you clear a small amount of space in your day for reflection. By consciously processing daily challenges, you can avoid them building up and weighing you down mentally and emotionally.
Take a real day off. Having one real day off a week can do wonders for your mood and mental agility. Maybe you’re used to polishing off a few hours’ work on Sunday morning, thinking you’ll make your Monday easier. Or perhaps you still do some work-related chores on Saturday, too, since you worked from home the Friday before. It may not seem like much, but those habits can take a toll: Work is still work, no matter in what proportions or where you do it.
If you can’t step away for the entire weekend, you should reserve at least one day that’s totally off-limits to any form of work whatsoever. Don’t even check a single business email. This gives your brain time to decompress so you can feel more focused and motivated when do return to work. Without some sort of weekly boundary in place, you’re liable to think, “Well, since it feels like I’m always working and never get a break, it’s fine for me to do this-or-that personal task during my work hours.”
Recalibrate. Blocking out a few hours at the beginning of your week, the end of your week, or even both can be invaluable. Think back on what you learned over the past seven days, the things you accomplished, and the top priorities you’ll need to tackle in the week ahead. Make sure action items from your latest round of meetings get on your calendar. Do any other organizing that helps you confront the next week from a position of strength and clarity. If you don’t carve out this time for tactical weekly planning, you’re more likely to wander aimlessly from one workweek to the next with no real sense of forward progress or closure.
Take a hike. If you can spend a weekend away once a month or once every other month, that’s ideal. But even if it’s just a day trip, like going to a local forest preserve or exploring a new part of a city, doing something new can boost your energy and creativity. And because they’re different from your routine experiences, those excursions can’t help but be restorative. If you want a major creativity boost, consider taking a trip abroad. According to Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky, foreign experiences increase cognitive flexibility and the ability to make deep connections.
Assess your direction. Put a monthly recurring alert in your calendar to remind you to assess your quarterly goals. Use that time to evaluate whether they still make sense, given what’s taken place in your life over the last four weeks. After a particularly busy season, you may even decide that multiple weeks or a whole month will be focused on rest and recovery. That doesn’t mean not doing anything at work. It just means making space to work less, to dial back your breakneck pace, and think more about where you’re heading, not just how quickly you’re heading there. You can use that time to catch up on whatever may have fallen by the wayside during a particularly vigorous push.
So give yourself a break–routinely. Your energy, productivity, and creativity will thank you, instead of fizzling out.